Meet your link to getting hired - Lauren Menger

Often, when you are sending out emails, marketing yourself as a valuable freelance dancer to different companies, your emails are not going straight to the artistic director. If you are sending your info to a larger company, you will most likely be communicating with the company manager or the assistant to the artistic director. This is not typically the case, though, with smaller sized organizations. I have found that smaller companies who utilize freelance dancers don't typically have the finances to hire a massive network of administrators to handle everyday business. What often happens is one very respected and responsible dancer takes on a more administrative role and helps the company out with certain tasks. Taking on this responsibility can be very valuable, as it offers some great work experience outside of dancing and it saves the company some money. I have had a few great experiences working directly with a dancer while I am setting up work. The best part of this interaction is that you are already developing a direct relationship with somebody that you will eventually be dancing with before you arrive. Recently, prior to signing a contract to dance with Festival Ballet Providence in their production of Swan Lake, I communicated with a dancer about everything from contracts to housing and travel. Meet Lauren Menger.

Lauren in Balanchine's Apollo (Photo: Gene Schiavone)

The professional dance world is very small. And when I say small, I mean really, really small. I was performing in a festival with Seiskaya Ballet while solidifying work with Festival Ballet Providence. I mentioned, in passing, that I was communicating with a woman by the name of Lauren Menger during a conversation with the directors and fellow guest artist, Boston Ballet's Boyko Dossev, when all of their eyes lit up. Lauren was raised at Seiskaya Ballet. I knew that we were connecting through our email conversations, but this new connection really helped seal the deal. I find that I always end up befriending dancers that take a greater position in companies beyond their role as a dancer. This is not only because they are an integral part in me getting hired. I find that these dancers are intelligent, ambitious, interested in the greater picture of the organization beyond their own status, and proactive in creating work experience that may help them when their dance career ends. I have great respect for that. Needless to say, Lauren and I became great friends and supporters of each other during my five weeks in Providence. I pulled her aside and asked if she would be willing to speak about her dual role as a dancer and liason to the artistic director for my audience and, to our benefit, she agreed.
Lauren performing Swan Lake (photo: Gene Schiavone)

What is your position with the company and how long have you been doing this/these jobs?

I am a Company Dancer here at Festival Ballet Providence and have been dancing full time here for the past seven years. We do not have official ranks. In addition to my role as a company dancer, I am called Production Manager in the playbill, but in all actuality it is more like an Assistant to the Director position. I have been in this position for the last five years.

How did you fall into your current position as an assistant?

Towards the end of my second year as an apprentice here, the company became short staffed in the office. Mihailo (Misha) Djuric, our artistic director, needed help with a few odds and ends. He didn't want to hire another person because he felt a colleague of mine and I were capable of the job and could split the duties. That year we were each assigned specific jobs. We were given an hourly rate and it was a nice small addition to our income. The following year my colleague was preparing to retire, so I incurred her duties. The next few years were big transition years for the company. We lost an executive director, who was incredible at her job, our production manager, two marketing people, and a slew of other administrative workers. I had a business minor from my time at Indiana University and had no problem picking up odds and ends that needed to be taken care of. This company has always been extremely loyal to the dancers and has never cut our pay. They have had to sacrifice office workers for the good of the dancers. Since this is the case, I help Misha out, filling in these gaps whenever possible.

What specific responsibilities do you have outside of being a dancer with your company?

Outside of the company my responsibilities include, but are not limited to: ordering, budgeting and distributing company dancers' shoes, answering all auditioner correspondence, coordinating truck rentals for load in and load out of the theatre (this includes my husband, fellow dancer Roger Fonnegra, driving them on occasion), assisting with all dancer/staff relations, communicating important information with the dancers whenever needed, communicating and helping out new hires, assisting with travel arrangements for guests, and assisting Misha whenever he needs help. I have also created and organized fundraisers, contributed to a blog, and helped sell tickets/ads.

What do you do to help dancers that are coming in as guest artists?

I try to make their transition as seamless as possible. I fill them in on the odds and ends of dancing with Festival. I have offered up my house as a place to stay when we can, assist with driving them places, answer all their emails/questions, take care of their shoe needs, and keep them updated with all company info.

What is the most rewarding part of your job as an assistant?

At times, my job as assistant can be time consuming, but in the end it is actually very rewarding. One thing that the director and I have always shared is our desire for the arts and more importantly our company in Rhode Island to succeed. One doesn't really realize how much work it takes to put on a production until you really are behind the scenes of it. This company has so many talented artists and dancers. It gives me great pleasure to know that I was part of the hard work that went into getting them on stage. My work often goes unrewarded externally, but personally it makes me feel good knowing that I can put forth my efforts into something larger and more meaningful than just myself.

What advice would you give to dancers who are looking for guest work? How about once they arrive to dance with a company like Festival?

My advice to dancers looking for guest work would be to make it evident from the get-go what type of work you are looking for. I would also say to not be shy about sending your materials out, even if companies are not necessarily seeking guests. I usually keep an e-file of dancers who send me their info to go through when we need them. When they arrive to work, I would say that being flexible is the best quality to have; and not necessarily the ballet type. ;) Be ready to give up some of what you are used to, either stylistically or personality wise, to mesh well with the staff and company. Also, be open; companies like ours really enjoy having other people come and perform with us, and being friendly can't ever hurt.

Lauren was one of the most positive aspects of my time in Providence. Companies are very lucky to have certain people that are willing to give as much to the organization as they do to their art. After finishing her 7th season with Festival, Lauren and her husband Roger decided to take a great leap across the country to join Ballet Idaho, where they will both dance. Lauren is also taking on a major role teaching in the school, all while finishing up a Master's degree in Elementary Education.


  1. A nice article Barry, about a lovely dancer and person. One correction: before Seiskaya, Lauren studied ballet with Debra Punzi and modern with me at the Long Island Ballet Center for a number of years. She did not "grow up" at Seiskaya only! We are very proud of her work, and wish her and her husband the best in their new venture!

  2. Glad you enjoyed the article. Thanks for the added info. When I said raised, I meant that she had spent time training in the school. My intention was not to disregard her entire dance upbringing, but to show how I had made a direct connection with her. Many of us dancers have a great many teachers that got us to where we are and if it were a biographical piece, I would make sure to include the dancer's entire background. Im glad you are reading and enjoying the blog. And yes, best wishes to them in their new venture!

  3. Barry! Beautiful tribute to Lauren! Thank you!